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Developing the Critical Eye: First Year Seminar

What should every educated person know? Bard College at Simon’s Rock has several curricular components that present strategies to answer this very question. Developed at different points in the College’s evolution—from the RAP credit, which was present since the College’s beginning, to the Writing and Thinking Workshop, First-Year and Sophomore Seminars, and the Moderation Process, all of which are rooted in Bard’s curriculum—these foundations are constructed to develop skills that support a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. A student of any discipline must possess the ability to think critically, read closely, write articulately, move confidently, collaborate freely, and listen intently. It is Simon’s Rock aim to nurture students as they acquire fluency in each of these areas of engagement.

Developing the Critical Eye: First Year Seminar

To gain a sense of context is to build an awareness of that which precedes and that which follows. Just as re-reading a paragraph helps detangle the precise meaning of a word, and studying historical events helps explain the thoughts and actions of important figures, thinking and writing critically about classic texts affords students context for their work in all disciplines. For this reason, all Bard College at Simon’s Rock students are required to participate in the First-Year Seminar, an examination of many of the works that have shaped the tradition of Western writing.

Based on Bard’s own First Year Seminar requirement, this curricular foundation takes place in two semester-long segments, one in the fall and one in the spring. First-year students examine the classic works of Sophocles, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, Austen, and others, accompanied by a variety of articles, essays, poems, and stories. Students develop a critical eye, understanding these works through study in which they analyze the human situations, emotions, conflicts, and questions that have engaged great writers over the centuries. The seminar focuses on themes of self-discovery, the relationship of the individual and society, and the nature of values and responsibility. Supported by the common groundwork laid in the Writing and Thinking Workshop, these seminars—also taught by faculty of nearly all disciplines—push students to respond thoughtfully and critically to the texts before them, while also placing value on listening. The complex, intimate relationship between individual reader and text is highly important, but equally important is the ability to translate such a private moment into public dialog. The seminar provides a safe academic space in which students are able to openly and intellectually exchange a range of responses, opinions and thoughts in writing and out loud.

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